In the eleventh chapter of The Subtle Knife, it’s possible to vomit from the unbearable suspense and terror that Philip Pullman gives you through the pages of this book. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time to continuing reading The Subtle Knife.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE BELVEDERE
How does someone keep the action and tension up FOR CHAPTER OVER CHAPTER? I’m reminded of the discussion I brought up during the review for the sixteenth chapter of The Golden Compass. In an instant, Pullman seems to be able to send me into a state of hyperventilation as I try not to pass out from being so excited and overstimulated by what’s happening on the page. The thing is….this has barely slowed down at all from the very first chapter of the book. If I had chosen to read this in one sitting (AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT I WOULDN’T HAVE STOPPED), I feel like I could have gone from cover to cover in just a couple hours. This is just…unbelievable. In the sense that I don’t know how I never read this series, and I don’t know how a person even conceives of this, time and time again.
Seriously, think about the timeline we’re dealing with here:
- NO LYRA IN OPENING OF CHAPTER 1
- MULTIPLE UNIVERSES
- LEE SCORESBY
- WHAT THE FUCK
- THE SUBTLE KNIFE
- DARK MATTER
- oh my god mrs coulter and lord boreal WHY
- OH MY GOD MY BRAIN CANNOT DEAL DR. GRUMMAN
It’s just one thing after another, and none of this is at all what I anticipated this novel to be about. We have new characters, literal new worlds, and a whole host of new problems, one of which Lyra and Will must deal with now: the repercussions of giving up Tullio to the Specters.
Well, actually, the immediate concern Will has is for his hand. I like the fact that the wound Will received in becoming the bearer of the knife does not mean it acts like a ~super special~ wound. The dude had two of his fingers severed off and has had no medical attention. He’s going to have an awful time for a few days. Maybe longer! Unfortunately, for now, he’s in a lot of pain, he’s lost a lot of blood, and basically everything is unpleasant. This is what I’m referring to when I saw that fantastical stores can be realistic in their own way. Yes, this is all over-the-top, but that doesn’t mean interactions and characters can’t be grounded in ways we understand.
Still, I am worried about Will, especially when Lyra notices the rest of his hand is swollen and red. Their silent, dull fear about this is muted by the problem they are both facing: Will now possesses the weapon that would have given the children of Cittágazze the power to grow up unafraid of the Specters. I still don’t know the full importance of the subtle knife and how it will play out in the grand scheme of things, but Pullman doesn’t ignore the complicated nature of Will’s new role. To the Cittágazze children, Will stole their future away from them and doomed them all to certain death when they get older.
Will, however, makes a REALLY intriguing comment to Lyra when they inevitably start discussing the Specters: He thinks they came from his universe.
“Maybe they’re not called Specters. Maybe we call them something else.”
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Pullman, so far, leaves no detail behind, so this HAS to mean something. BUT WHAT? BUT WHAT? It doesn’t help that Will’s theory (the Specters eat people’s dæmons) gives me about 0% more of an idea of what’s going on. Until these two theories were brought up, I never even thought learning what the Specters were. It’s a parallel universe that acts as a way station between worlds. Weird shit is going to happen. And yet, now I’m kind of obsessed with the idea.
Will reiterates that the two of them really don’t have the time to determine which side of the moral spectrum they land on. (I’m glad Lyra acknowledges the fact that these kids will rightly view them as enemies.) For him, having now accepted the power of the alethiometer, the most important thing is having Lyra consult it to read the future. He asks her to find out about his mother first. (Holy shit, I had totally forgotten about her. OOPS.) Will hasn’t, though, and given how much he’s dealing with right at that moment, I loved that he thought about her. She was his first concern, and I can only imagine that he misses her terribly. Oh god, please let her be okay through all of this. John Parry is certainly going to die by the end of the series, and it would be a bit much if something happened to Will’s mother, too.
In the worst-timed plot shift in the history of plot twists, just as Will starts to request Lyra use the alethiometer to ask about his father, the children of Cittágazze arrive at the villa that they are staying in.
A note before I continue: If you find this scene, as the children lay siege to the house, particularly creepy, go find the movie, Quien Puede Matar a Un Niño? and watch it. One of the scariest movies ever made and it’ll make all of this here in The Subtle Knife seem like a Saturday morning cartoon.
At the same time, I can’t ignore just how horrific this is. Pullman makes children terrifying, even though I understand why they’re coming after Lyra and Will. For me, I don’t even think it’s necessarily what they are doing that creeps me out. It’s the numbers. It’s the sheer size of the group. At the beginning, Lyra estimates that it’s probably around “forty or fifty of them.” It’s two against nearly fifty. How the hell do you escape that? Lyra suggests cutting a window and climbing through to Will’s world, but Will’s quick to point out that they’re basically in his house in this world. (Which brings up a new question for me: Can you only travel through worlds in one direction? How do you get from Cittágazze to Lyra’s world or a fourth one? Are the windows dependent on geographical location? I ASK ONLY IMPORTANT QUESTIONS.)
The only option left for them to do is to run away. They opt to head to a weird temple-like structure instead of the woods but Will ends up having to slow down out of exhaustion. (Again, a way to ground a fantastical story in reality.) It’s the first sign that the odds are not in their favor. Upon arriving inside the temple building, they discover it’s basically a dead end. No escape, no locked door, and a simple stairway up to what is basically a viewing space for people to look out upon the town.
Oh, and the lead boy of the group has a gun which he is shooting at the temple. A gun! Where did that even come from? WHO CARES. THIS IS GOING TO BE AWFUL. I mean…how creepy is it when Will cuts a window and discovers that they’re fifty feet above traffic in the other universe? This might be the most hopeless situation they’ve been in yet. The children begin to crowd into the temple and I just want to fall over and nap because this is just too much for my gentle heart to handle. Then Will does something that is both shocking and completely confusing: He uses the subtle knife to CUT THE STAIRCASE AWAY.
Here’s what I’m confused by: Didn’t Giacomo specifically tell Will not to use the knife for its base purpose? Isn’t this like the fifth time he’s done so? Either that rule is not important, or Will’s going to learn rather quickly that it is important, and he’s made a grave mistake by using it like this. oh god it’s going to be the second one, isn’t it isn’t it.
So seriously, a staircase collapses on a bunch of kids and the kid with the gun accidentally shoots one of them and “Will looked down to see a tangle of writhing bodies covered in plaster and dust and blood.” Oh, and then they notice that kids are using each other as a complicated ladder system to climb up into the archways. Oh, and then a young boy is throwing broken roof tiles at Lyra. Oh, and then Will cuts out SWORDS from the railing and he and Lyra use it to defend themseleves. (I’m sorry, that’s amazing.) Yeah, this is a pleasant book full of wonderful imagery that will not give me nightmares.
It had sort of been a fleeting thought of mine that I’d not vocalized because I was enjoying the separate plots, but last week, I wondered when these characters would finally start to converge to become a singular narrative. Here, in chapter eleven, is the first instance of that: Kaisa, Serafina’s gorgeous goose dæmon, comes majestically flying into the temple, and shortly after, the sky is full of the dark, whisking figures of witches. A;SKLDFJASDF;LK SERAFINA IS HERE. And she and her fellow witches do not fuck around, liberally shooting arrows onto the roof of the temple to scare the children away. (I don’t think they actually hit any of them?) What I loved about this was how they used the fear of the Specters to drive the attackers away, who must have suddenly believed these were a new type of Specter.
I felt nothing but joy at the arrival of the witches, but things are not that simple in Pullman’s world. The ironic thing about using the fear of Specters is that THERE ARE ACTUALLY SPECTERS EVERYWHERE. So Serafina can’t even come down in order to get Will and Lyra; even worse, Kaisa tells them, “There’s more trouble coming, and bigger.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN.
See, this is what I’m talking about: we are given so many details and clues and acts of intensity in such a short span of time that I don’t even know what I’m supposed to pay attention to. And it just keeps going. Seriously, the worst book to read in the Mark Reads format but also the very best book.
Serafina quickly figures out that the Specters, which she can see but not Will or Lyra, are terrified of Will. So they can sense the knife, even if Will doesn’t have it out? WHY IS THAT. WHY DO I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.
I have a feeling that I’m going to get those answers I crave so much very soon. This hectic and chaotic chapter ends on the calmest note we’ve come across after Will and Lyra take a slow journey to a cave, as directed by Serafina, where the witches have assembled. They’re all confused by the subtle knife, which Will presents when Serafina asks what caused the wound on his hand. I’m glad that Will finally has someone to take care of his hand, especially since I started to worry about. (Seriously, I want a witch to take care of me when I’m injured.)
The chapter ends with Lyra beginning to tell Serafina everything she’s learned since she travelled to this world, but I get the sense that it’s because Serafina herself has learned something that we have not.
God damn it must keep reading.